“Motherhood is difficult, but it’s so rewarding. It’s the most fulfilling job there is!”

I’ve reflected long and bitterly over this blithe, thoughtless statement when I’ve been locked in an endless cycle of dirty diapers, dirty dishes, dirty laundry, dirty unwashed hair, and kids that fight dirty. I’ve also reconsidered it when my children finally settled a dispute through talking (like I’ve been teaching them to for their whole lives!), rather than engaging in a pitched battle of Darwinism. I’ve accepted its truth when my 3-year-old finally went to sleep without some sort of tantrum at bedtime (after 1 year of hopelessness on our part).

Here’s the thing. Motherhood is fulfilling eventually, if you’ve done it right. Whoof! That’s an overwhelming thought. You need to model good behavior and emotional control for your kids every day, and have the humility to apologize and ask forgiveness when you blow it. Now do that for 5 years straight, sometimes through enormous amounts of stress, peer pressure, and exhaustion, and finally your children should not need your intervention perhaps twice a day (out of 400 needed times). Now do that for another 5 years, and watch your children’s needs start evolving overnight into more complicated and stressful problems. Rinse and repeat.

My goal with this is to remind those in the later stages envying (or laughing at!) the mother with “simpler problems” of how you hated hearing how fulfilled you should be feeling. All you remember are the sweet sleepy snuggles, the daily wildflower offerings, the excitement and joy and thrills at new experiences. The young, new mothers are enjoying those too, but time and age have not yet dimmed the difficulties of early child-raising.

I also intend this as a message of hope for those seeing the years stretch in an endless dark tunnel of whining and messes--buckle down and hang in there, it does get better. By 2 years old the baby will be feeding themselves much more cleanly; by 3 they can dress themselves and actually be helpful with simple chores (cleanup, folding laundry, some baking); by 4 they’re learning some emotional control.

Motherhood (all parenting, really) is either a lesson in patience, or a slow descent into madness if you refuse to learn. Galatians 5 tells us to not be weary in well doing; it promises that in due season we shall reap, if we faint not. But we want much more immediate results—days, weeks, months at most. Waiting years is hard, especially when you don't feel you have the control needed in your own life.

Step back now, and see how God is changing not just your children over the years; He’s changing you. Through daily decisions to stay calm in order to teach your children, you’re also being taught to grow as a person. Be patient. Patient during the 1,000th inane question; patient during the constant interruptions; patient when the children climb on you yet again though you’re all touched out; and patient when a grandmotherly stranger smiles fondly at your screaming child in the store and says, “Enjoy this stage; they grow up so fast.”